“Black Swan” Movie Review

     To see Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is an experience like none other and rivals “Inception” as 2010’s most inventive and creative movie idea.  If you know Aronofsky’s previous work (“The Wrestler” & “Requiem For A Dream”), than you know and should expect Black Swan to be, should I say, different.  In my book, different is always good and original entertainment is what I expect each and every time I view film, but I rarely get it.  Like “The Wrestler”, Aronofsky succeeds in bringing to life a world not known by most and in this case that is the world of ballet.  As a psychological thriller, Black Swan succeeds on a number of levels.  It is a piece of fine art and contains several of 2010’s best acting performances.  To say the least, I really liked this film.

     Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her young career as Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer in a New York City ballet company.  When the film opens she is but one face of many, but when the star of the current show retires, she is chosen as the new lead in an updated version of Swan Lake.  This promotion to the very top immediately sets off a chain of events in Nina’s life, as the pressure of being a star begin to there toll.  In this story, there are three main elements to the immense stresses in Nina’s life.  The first is her relationship with her mother.  The second is the relationship with her teacher, and the third is the relationship with her under study.  Each relationship plays a major role in the film and each contributes to the film’s ultimate conclusion.

     In one of many important roles in the film, Barbara Hershey plays Erica, Nina’s mother.  You may have not seen a mother and daughter relationship like this since probably the film “Sybil”.  Disturbing for sure.  If you ever feel during the film that Nina is losing it, you won’t have to look any further as to why.  Erica tends to her adult daughter’s every need and is involved in every aspect of her life.  If she needs her finger nails cut, she cuts them for her.  She gives her no privacy what so ever as she dresses and undresses her.  You would think Nina is about 10 years old or so the way Erica runs her life.  For the majority of the film, Nina certainly allows these things to happen, but you can always tell how uncomfortable she is.  Early in the film, Nina is told by her teacher Thomas to “touch herself” when she gets home.  One morning Nina wakes up and decides to take the advice.  While in her own throws of passion, she turns and realizes her mother is asleep in a chair next to her bed! Awkward!

     Nina’s teacher, Thomas (played by the excellent Vincent Cassel) is a whole other type of stress in her life.  It’s early in the film when Thomas hand picks Nina for the starring role and his methods for honing the skills of his new lead are, shall we say, different.  Or maybe they’re not, since I know nothing about how ballet dancers prepare each day.  Thomas proclaims immediately to Nina that she is a natural as the White Swan, but where she must show improvement is in her portrayal as the Black Swan, the White Swan’s evil twin.  He wants her to show attitude and sex appeal clearly.  In one memorable exchange, Thomas asks Nina’s dance partner “Would you fuck her?”  Her partner is speechless, thus proving his point.  Whereas the White Swan is meant to come across as “frigid”, the Black Swan should be pure Femme Fatale.  Thomas teaches Nina the art of seduction and definitely crosses the teacher and student relationship boundaries, but only puts one foot over that line.  Just enough to help Nina become what he envisions her becoming.

     Every star has to have an understudy and Thomas has chosen Lily, played by Mila Kunis.  If Nina excels in her portrayal of the White Swan, it is Lily who excels in the portrayal of the Black Swan as she is anything but innocent.  Lily is your classic manipulator and is willing to use her charm and her body to get what she wants.  Her character is always in the shadows of every scene in the film.  She appears when you least expect it and you always have the feeling she is up to no good.  In one scene she may seem to Nina as if she is a friend, but in another she is clearly trying to hurt her.

     All of these elements come together and ultimately the viewer of the film will begin to question what is reality and what is not.  This is because at a certain point in the story, Nina loses it, but Aronofsky doesn’t make it obvious as to when.  He doesn’t treat you, the viewer, as if your not smart enough to figure it out.  He never tells you if Nina was ever diagnosed with any mental illness or prescribed any medications she might not be taking now.  You are presented with an innocent and seemingly helpless character whose drive to perfection as a dancer may be her only downfall at the film’s beginning, but the above described elements clearly push her over the edge.  To me, this was the most compelling aspect of Black Swan, when reality is blurred, the audience is left to guess and that brings the film’s suspense level through the roof. 

     Much has been made of Natalie Portman’s performance in this film and I whole heartedly agree.  I truly see her as a front runner at this year’s Academy Awards and she will be hard pressed to out do this performance any time soon.  As mentioned earlier, Thomas consistently presses Nina to transform into her Black Swan character and it is the moment she does in the film which I see as one of the most emotional and powerful scenes in any film this year. The way the acting, the musical score, and story elements combined during the third act of this film is the true definition of masterful filmmaking. 

     Black Swan is definitely the classic “love it or hate it” type film.  I feel it is one of the best of 2010 and a film Hitchcock himself would definitely have approved of.  For those who don’t agree, I would give the same advice Thomas gives Nina throughout the film, that being “Just let yourself go.”  Aronofsky, Portman, and the fine cast will take care of the rest.  GRADE: A